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Finding Neverland Blog Archive

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great Mosque of Djenné



Djenné is a small but historical city of the African country, Mali. This city has seen a lot of meorable events as well as many historical days, but the best thing about this city is the Great Mosque of Djenné, it is the first and biggest mosque built with mud bricks.

It is considered by many architects to be one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. The first mosque on the site was built around the 13th century, but the current structure dates from 1907. As well as being the centre of the community of Djenné, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa. Along with the "Old Towns of Djenné" it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.

Djenne, an ancient centre for gold and silver traders, was founded in the fourteenth century by Emperor Mansa Musa. As one of the few individuals to make the exhaustive pilgrimage to Mecca, Musa firmly established Islamic belief within the empire. Adobe buildings are ubiquitous in the city, which lacks other natural resources such as wood or stone.

Despite the fact that the original mosque was erected in Musa’s lifetime, it was ignored until the nineteenth century when the current ruler and invader Seku Amadu, ordered a new mosque. Citizens protested and, in 1906, began renovating the original Great Mosque. The local people initiated the project with some assistance from the French administration. The reconstructive process began one hundred years ago – today the Mosque is an embodiment of contemporary social practice and twentieth-century colonial influence.


Ten years before René Caillié’s visit, the Fulani leader Seku Amadu had launched his jihad and conquered the town. Seku Amadu appears to have disapproved of the existing mosque and allowed it to fall into disrepair. This would have been the building that Caillié saw. Seku Amadu had also closed all the small neighbourhood mosques. Between 1834 and 1836, Seku Amadu built a new mosque to the east of the existing mosque on the site of the former palace. The new mosque was a large, low building lacking any towers or ornamentation.

French forces led by Louis Archinard captured Djenné in April 1893. Soon after, the French journalist Félix Dubois visited the town and described the ruins of the original mosque. At the time of his visit, the interior of the ruined mosque was being used as a cemetery. In his book, Timbuctoo: the mysterious, Dubois provides a plan and a drawing as to how he imagined the mosque looked before being abandoned.

In 1906, the French administration in the town arranged for the original mosque to be rebuilt and at the same time for a school to be constructed on the site of Seku Amadu’s mosque. The rebuilding was completed in 1907 using forced labour under the direction of Ismaila Traoré, head of Djenné’s guild of masons.

In 1935 French engineers intervened and remodelled the architecture, tapering the external pilasters and creating greater symmetry in the façade. Resistant to modern materials or construction techniques, the Mosque is a source of pride and wonder for Muslims in Africa. Whilst the French administrative powers funded and organised the renovation, the European influence is perhaps reminiscent of uncomfortable current affairs in Mali.

Electrical wiring and indoor plumbing have been added to many mosques in Mali. In some cases, the original surfaces of a mosque have even been tiled over, destroying its historical appearance and in some cases compromising the building's structural integrity. While the Great Mosque has been equipped with a loudspeaker system, the citizens of Djenné have resisted modernization in favor of the building's historical integrity. Many historical preservationists have praised the community's preservation effort, and interest in this aspect of the building grew in the 1990s.

In 1996, Vogue held a fashion shoot inside the mosque. Vogue's pictures of scantily-dressed women outraged local opinion, and as a result, non-Muslims have been banned from entering the mosque ever since.

On 20 January 2006 the sight of a team of men hacking at the roof of the mosque sparked a riot in the town. The team were inspecting the roof as part of a restoration project financed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The men quickly disappeared to avoid being lynched. In the mosque the mob ripped out the ventilation fans that had been presented by the US Embassy at the time of the Iraq war and then went on a rampage through the town. The crowd ransacked the Cultural Mission, the mayor's home, destroyed the car belonging to the iman's younger brother and damaged three cars belonging to the iman himself. The local police were overwhelmed and had to call in reinforcements from Mopti. One man died during the disturbances.

On Thursday 5 November 2009, the upper section of the southern large tower of the qibla wall collapsed after 75 mm of rain had fallen in a 24 hour period. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture funded the rebuilding of the tower.

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